We know D.C. Get our free newsletter to stay in the know.
In 2002, Matthew Scully, speechwriter for Dan Quayle and George W. Bush, published Dominion: The Power of Man, the Suffering of Animals, and the Call to Mercy, a massive tome making a conservative, faith-based argument for animal rights. Covering a wide range of systemic animal suffering, from trophy hunting to factory farming, the book was embraced by critics and cited by animal rights activists as evidence that their issue is not just one for bleeding heart liberals.
It’s not surprising that Jurassic World Dominion, the latest entry in cinema’s only dino-franchise, shares a title with Scully’s book—and not just because one of its stars, Chris Pratt, is also conservative and faith-based. These films have increasingly leaned on the language of animal rights to make its thrills seem more substantive. 2015’s Jurassic World was set at a dino-park that felt like a proxy for SeaWorld, which was making headlines at the time due to allegations of cruelty and abuse made in the documentary Blackfish. The plot of 2018’s Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom featured a dinosaur rights group lobbying to save the creatures from an active volcano, as well as a villain who planned to auction them off as pets for the super-rich.
Maybe blockbuster films aren’t the best place to have these discussions. The Jurassic films gesture toward animal rights as a cloak of high-mindedness, then revel in the beasts’ pain and suffering. Jurassic World Dominion opens with Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard), the former PR director of Jurassic World now working as an undercover investigator, rescuing an injured baby triceratops from what is called an “extreme breeding facility” but is clearly coded as a puppy mill or factory farm. Next, we cut to her fella, Owen (Pratt), the former raptor-whisperer who now traps wild dinosaurs on the range and sends them to sanctuary. The imagery of Owen racing on horseback with a pack of parasaurs and subduing them for their own safety recalls the tireless battle animal rights advocates have waged for years against the U.S. government over the fate of wild horses.
In its attitude toward animals, Jurassic World Dominion suffers from the same contradictions as its predecessors. It wants credit for its evolved attitude toward its creatures, but in the end—and really for the whole final hour—it turns them into monsters who stalk our human heroes like psycho killers in a slasher movie, and asks us to cheer for their demise. In the grand tradition of Jurassic Park movies, this one ends with the humans relegated to the sideline, as we watch two enormous dinosaurs go mano a mano. The point is to inspire awe (or at least bloodlust), but after being asked to intermittently love and fear these creatures for over two hours, the result is numbness.
This misguided desire to serve two masters permeates every aspect of the film. As a legacy sequel, Jurassic World Dominion splits its energy between dual sets of characters. Owen and Claire spend the first hour traversing the world to save their adopted clone daughter—don’t ask, I beg you—Maisie (Isabella Sermon) and the offspring of everyone’s favorite benevolent velociraptor, Blue. Both were kidnapped by poachers. Meanwhile, Alan Grant (Sam Neill) and Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern) reunite to dig into a mystery at Biosyn Genetics, a Monsanto proxy run by evil tech genius Dr. Lewis Dodgson (Campbell Scott). Their old friend Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) works there as an in-house philosopher to pay the bills.
It couldn’t be clunkier. The film lurches back and forth between the two groups, and oscillates between mindless exposition and dashes of dark surrealism. There are supposedly heartwarming scenes, like when Ellie and Alan make contact again and blatantly dance around their long-held feelings for each other. A moment later, Owen visits a Moroccan black market where dinosaurs are cooked and served. It’s narrative whiplash of the highest order. There are promising characters, like the evil importer/exporter Soyona Santos (Dichen Lachman) who has trained her velociraptors to hunt and kill by laser pointer. She gets one good scene and then leaves the film. There are too many other masters to serve, and abundance is not a virtue. Bringing the old crew back only emphasizes how lifeless Pratt and Howard really are, and we end up wishing we could have simply spent the whole film with Neill, Dern, and (especially) Goldblum. They have no problem conjuring their old chemistry, which raises the ever-timely question: Why not just rewatch Jurassic Park instead?
For the last hour, that’s basically what you get. Everyone ends up at Biosyn, which happens to have an enormous dinosaur sanctuary. Several of the key players get stuck in the woods. Others go out to find them. The film treats its dinosaurs just like its humans; we get a bevy of new ones to go along with the old favorites. And while the last hour is a winning combination of gristle and goofiness, it takes too long to get there. Jurassic World Dominion ultimately suffers from its lack of commitment, only hinting at the films it could have been—a dino spy movie, dino-Apocalypse Now, or just a beat-for-beat remake of Jurassic Park—before moving onto its next poll-tested character beat or perfunctory action sequence. Forget animal rights, Jurassic World Dominion can’t even stand up for itself.
Jurassic World Dominion opens in theaters everywhere on June 9.